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Meet Your Budget Season Survival Guide

Three important tips to help school districts not only survive, but thrive during budget season.

Your district’s budget aims to be a reflection of the goals and priorities important to the district that will ultimately work towards maximizing the opportunities for your students. Unfortunately, for many school districts, budget decisions are made solely with a financial lens and may not always reflect the best interest of the students.

When budget season is in full throttle, how do you keep the focus on student success while ensuring that district goals are supported? Here are three tips to help you survive budget season.

A few things first

Salaries and benefits are typically the most considerable expense in any school district budget and generally don’t leave much left for new initiatives. How do you manage to implement programs and efficiencies with limited funding? Keep your focus simple.

Pick your top two or three initiatives that would produce the most significant gains in student achievement and develop a multi-year funding plan. Focus on programs and vendors that have a proven track record of success and can help the district best achieve its goals. Allowing data, and not emotions, to drive your decisions can help you make informed choices that maximize limited resources.

Still need to squeeze a few extra bucks out of your fixed expenses to fund new projects? Learn a few ways to potentially reduce the costs of other expenses such as transportation, energy, and utilities without impacting your ability to serve your students.

Give everyone a chance to be heard

For many districts, the decisions that affect many are left in the hands of the few. And many times, those few decision makers are the furthest removed from the ramifications of their choices.

Budgets that are planned for the masses, with the masses, tend to generate a greater sense of trust and ownership amongst those involved, so aim to bring everyone to the table - the first time. This would include not only those on the school board, but also central office staff, and even local principals and school-level administrators. Get the input of budget owners on every level to find out what’s important to them and glean valuable insight from their perspectives.

See what can happen when everyone gets a seat at the table in our case study featuring Indianapolis Public Schools.

Lessons learned and lessons burned

It is common to use last year’s spending as a basis for this year’s budget, but sometimes past spending patterns may not be viable or sustainable given the evolving needs of the students or the goals of the district. Create opportunities to reflect and evaluate the lessons learned from previous spending years and develop a process that replaces what’s no longer working.

One way to do this is to consider what happens when a school or department in your district underspends throughout the year. Many policies rescind and reallocate unspent monies into next year’s budget, sending budget managers into a spending frenzy during the last months of the school year. It may be worthwhile to consider a policy that encourages a more strategic use of underutilized funds.

The right policy paired with the right product can help districts achieve their goals strategically and sustainably. Balance Budget allows districts to not only create fiscal year budgets tied to district goals but quickly compare last year’s budget to reveal spending inefficiencies. Share the latest versions of your budgets with everyone on your team in real-time without opening a spreadsheet. Click here to learn more about Budget.

Budget season is undoubtedly a stressful time, but with a little forethought and deliberate planning, school districts can survive and thrive during budget season.